Lakeville Journal, July 19, 2012


Myth number one: your computer only does what you tell it. Result: support of computer technicians world-wide.

I’m not much good with mechanical things, or mathematics. I never accept a treasurer’s spot on any board or committee. I haven’t a cellphone. Or a texting machine. Or a hand-held toy or a laptop. But millions of other people do.

These millions have been given, by American technology (with a little help from China, India, the Maldives, the Philippines) the tools to make themselves into instant pundits and critics, movers and shakers. Failing that, the ability just to drive people nuts with conspiracy theories, political plots, consumer ripoffs, or simply pictures of themselves (actual or stolen) for romance.

This leads me to ask: What best defines American Exceptionalism today?

In my mind, the ability to say or do anything, right or wrong, and get away with it.

There may be some who see or read or watch, but generally not enough to keep anyone absolutely determined to “be somebody” from reaching that media-oriented goal.

After last fall’s elections, in thousands of towns and cities across the country, people assumed the mantle of responsibility who didn’t really know what to do with it. Some were persuaded by others to give it a try, or to believe that they alone could keep the Republic from shattering and crashing to the ground. Others genuinely believed the country was imperiled and that only they could mount the steps to the nearest microphone to save it.

But “American Exceptionalism” keeps getting in the way of all those men and women of good intent, whether or not they also have talent and patience and wisdom. Because just as they firmly believe in the righteousness of their causes, others believe equally strongly in their own. Worse, some will do almost anything to keep others from school boards, town halls, local posts intended to keep communities whole and happy.

The recent Supreme Court addendum to Citizens United is not going to help this one bit, slapping down Montana for maintaining its maximum contribution to political campaigns or candidates to $160 per person. The Court wants Montana, and other states which over the years fought possible political corruption by limiting this kind of money, to join the rest of our newly embillioned populace and to spend its money “on the come,” or for quid pro quo’s, rather than on infrastruture, education, science and technology. When you uphold one bad law, why not follow that up by approving another?

So now we face the prospect of “outside” money and television production cash coming into our very own neighborhoods to defeat local grocers, teachers, lawyers, homemakers by whom the Big Boys feel threatened.

Which is to say simply, and without any sort of satisfaction, that the threat of reform, or of better government, or of progress of many kinds will now be impeded, and approved nationally, by men and women with open pockets and few scruples. After all, Big Money doesn’t want new regulations or transparency. How do you think it got to be Big Money?

This in effect becomes a side-bar to American Exceptionalism, because Big Money contributors often needn’t even be identified, and many most certainly do not want to be. But they still fall into that same exceptional category: the richest, the smartest, the most determined, and –for some – the most written about, photographed, and stentorian demagogues who become, through their financial powers and political quirks, exceptional in capital letters.

What all this indicates to me is that we’ve got trouble, not in Arizona or Wisconsin or Florida, but on our own front step. Differences of opinion elevate in seconds to out-right wars refereed by the media. Has-been musicians and putative war heroes get as much space and time as deserving men and women with genuinely new and perhaps even revolutionary ideas that could help the country mightily.

Men and women concerned with the practices and profundities of our Constitution become vilified overnight. Their ideas and personalities are etch-a-sketched from YouTube, or Facebook, or the front page of our local papers, replaced by faceless, nameless patriotic revisionists or organizations none of us know or can identify.

This is a strange battle. Concerned identifiable citizens versus unidentifiable and secret entrenched money.

Civility, as people have long noted, has disappeared from public discourse. Thoughtful investigation and compromise are anathema to many. Cooperation on matters both small and large no longer seemspossible or even desirable.

American Exceptionalism has given every citizen a horn without giving each the accompanying sense of when to blow it.



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